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Cultural Notes

This episode starts with an anecdote related to Khrushchev's time. I start off with a bit of history you may need to understand this joke. The Soviet Union was normally one of the world's leading wheat exporter since grains were always among Russia's most important crops, occupying more than 50 percent of cropland. On the demand side, the Soviet Union would have an unusually high per capita consumption of wheat and a large quantity of wheat was also used as animal feed. In addition, wheat is the classic grain for Vodka, with most of the best Russian Vodkas being made from wheat (while Stolichanya, for example made from both rye and wheat). During the course of his ruling period Khrushchev aimed to boost agriculture by cultivating an extra 35 million hectares of virgin lands, but his agricultural policy was a failure. After short-term gains, food shortages returned, and the USSR had to import wheat from Canada and the United States. Soviet authorities imposed the strict control on the dissemination of information on this issue, however, there were lots of anecdotes, which were not spoken openly but whispered.

In this episode, you can hear a common anecdote of that time: A construction worker asks a cook: - Do you know another way to name Russian Wheat Vodka? … - … ? - The ear of wheat of America. The substance of this joke is based on a paradox, which is contrastively displayed -- the Russian vodka is produced from the wheat imported from America. The anecdote also provided an ironic running commentary through the intentional wordplay: in Russian words “ear of wheat” and “voice” differ only in their initial sounds, cf.: колос –голос. This wordplay is crucial component of the anecdote while referring implicitly to the Russian-language broadcast Voice of America that served as consistently reliable source of news about life outside the USSR to many Russians who eagerly awaited its programs each night.

Andrey Makarevich is a founder of one of the oldest Russian rock groups Машина времени Time Machine (1968). The group developed its own unique style stemmed from a Russian hippie understanding of rock and conditioned by the tastes of its musicians. This band always moved away from political involvement and never promoted political slogans too openly. The theme of their song was the search of the universal human values. They found an inspiration in bard songs with romantic protest, lyrical and nostalgic folk ballads, blues and rock-n-roll. In 1980s they became one of the first commercial rock groups with official records, tours and participation in cinema shooting. Now Andrey Makarevich is taking part in pro-Kremlin shows, and Time Machine hasn’t positioned themselves as an opposition band. Yet Russia’s few politically outspoken rockers consistently express their anti-establishment views, though Makarevich is not alone in thinking otherwise. He still has managed to make money from rock. Rock critic Artemy Troitsky described Makarevich as “a wealthy and well-placed person with many friends in top places, who is … really afraid of showing any kind of disloyalty to the authorities.” In other words, he has abstained from engaging in politics or having a political voice.

Listen to his song and sing along

Люблю я макароны, Любовью к ним пылаю неземною.

Люблю я макароны - И что хотите делайте со мною!

Для вас это - ерунда, Подумаешь, еда!

Но вы полейте их томатом, Посыпьте чёрным перцем,

Смешайте с тёртым сыром, Запейте их вином.

Поймёте вы всем сердцем - Какое это чудо,

Потом вам станет худо, Но это уж потом.

Вельможные персоны Худеют по диете - и напрасно,

Им снятся макароны, А надо есть пилюли да лекарство.

А я - человек простой, Хотя и не худой.

Залит я доверху томатом, Набит я чёрным перцем,

А также тёртым сыром И молодым вином.

И знаю я всем сердцем, Что нет на свете блюда,

Вкусней чем это чудо, Вреднее чем оно.

Люблю я макароны, Хоть говорят: они меня погубят,

Люблю я макароны, Хотя моя невеста их не любит.

Но я приготовлю их Однажды на двоих.

Уж я их так полью томатом, Посыплю чёрным перцем,

Смешаю с тёртым сыром И дам запить вином.

Поймёт она всем сердцем, Какое это чудо,

Потом ей станет худо, Но это уж потом.

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